Saturday,  Jul 21, 2018,10:55 (GMT+7) 0 0
Belgium’s musical heritage revealed
By Bradley Winterton
Wednesday,  Jul 11, 2018,12:37 (GMT+7)

Belgium’s musical heritage revealed

By Bradley Winterton

Belgian conductor Daniel Gazon will lead a concert devoted to 45 years of Vietnam's diplomatic relations with Belgium in the Saigon Opera House on July 19 - PHOTO: COURTESY OF HBSO

HCMC - On July 19, HBSO will present an evening devoted to 45 years of Vietnam's diplomatic relations with Belgium, culminating in Beethoven’s Symphony No: 8.

This evening of Belgium-related works will take place in the Saigon Opera House, beginning at 8 p.m.

Belgian conductor Daniel Gazon will be on the podium. He was last seen with HBSO in HCMC in March 2017 when he conducted Mozart’s ‘Linz’ Symphony and Brucker’s Requiem.

The major Belgian link in the program, perhaps surprisingly, is Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No:8. Beethoven’s grandfather, also called Ludwig, was born in the Flemish-speaking part of what is now Belgium. Moreover, the name ‘Ludwig’ is a form of the Flemish name ‘Lodewijk’. Also, the “van” in Beethoven’s name is Flemish, as opposed to the “von” in a normal German name.

Beethoven’s family originated in the Belgian city of Mechelen, half way between Brussels and Antwerp. His father moved to Bonn in Germany only a year before the birth of his son Ludwig.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that the concert begins with an item composed by someone called Lodewijk Mortelmans, a Belgian composer who lived from 1868 to 1952. 

At the age of 20 Mortelmans was awarded the Belgian Prix de Rome for his opera Lady Macbeth. In 1903 he founded the Society for New Concerts in the Belgian port city of Antwerp. This attracted an astonishing range of celebrity conductors and soloists, including Mahler, Richard Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Casals and Fritz Kreisler. He also, in a large output, composed an opera called The Children of the Sea (1920).

But it’s for his art songs that he’s best remembered. In Saigon soprano Cho Hae Ryong will sing, with orchestral accompaniment, his song “Mignon, kennst du das Land”, widely seen as one of his most splendid. The words are by Goethe. This will be followed by two songs written by another Belgian, Joseph Jongen (1873 - 1953).

Jongen was a child prodigy and was admitted to Belgium’s Liege Conservatory of Music at the astonishing age of seven. Like Mortelmans he too won the Belgian Prix de Rome, in his case at the age of 24. His massive Symphonie Concertante of 1926 is often called the greatest work ever written for organ and orchestra. He was created Grand Officer of Belgium’s Order of Leopold in 1934.

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